by Philo Hagen
The holidays can be a time of joy and a time for gathering together family and friends, but what if you’ve lost someone near and dear to you. What if getting together for turkey and stuffing this year means an empty spot at the dining table for the very first time. While losing those we love is ultimately the great inevitability of this thing we call life, even if we have a pretty firm grasp on that fact intellectually speaking, it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier when Mom isn’t around to make those tarts we always love so much at Christmas. While hooping is typically and quite rightfully associated with all of the happier emotions out there like joy and excitement, there are those who have discovered over the years too that the hoop can also be an incredible tool or comfort when we’re grieving as well.
Noelle Powers of Hooping Powers spent several years of her hooping journey dealing with her mother, Mimi Powers, having Level 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme brain cancer. She passed away from that deadly disease on November 7, 2006. Noelle told us, “I vividly recall the day she picked up the hoop I’d made for her. She was barely able to walk without assistance, but she hooped for a good 20 or 30 seconds. She had the most inspiringly positive attitude and outlook on life.” Noelle has organized an annual hooping event to coincide with the 5K Brain Tumor Race/Walk that happens every year since in Washington, DC, raising money to donate on behalf of Team Mimi. She explained, “Besides being a stellar form of brain exercise with it’s bilateral hemisphere stimulation, hooping is a such a good-mood-maker too. Dealing with losing my mom has by far been the most challenging journey of my life, but having hooping as an outlet has been a source of coping and healing. I always tell folks, ‘You can’t really have a bad time when you’re hoola hooping.’ While it certainly didn’t take away my grief, hooping allowed me to find moments of bliss throughout the difficult mourning process.”
Lara Clark of Seattle, Washington, knows just how difficult the mourning process can be. A typically happy, positive and outgoing person, she managed to attend a prestigious University where she excelled, got a great job right out of college, and travelled and married a British Diplomat. Her new life in London working for the UK government in arts and education was the stuff of fairy tales. Lara was the happiest woman she knew, until it all began to change. Her marriage fell apart while she was pregnant and with a 4-month-old baby in tow, she moved back to the states. Four months later struggling with bipolar disorder, her younger sister Arwen Elizabeth Morgan hung herself in their family home. She said, “The girl who was performing at a top theater house, recording her album and was loved and respected by many who admired her big personality, deep wisdom and creative spirit – died.” And her family unraveled. When her mother’s marriage collapsed under the weight, Lara’s mom, her best friend, moved in with her, only to start slipping away deeper into grief of her own. “I did everything I could to try to save my Mom,” Lara told us, “I could see she was dying and didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t stop it.” On November 20th, 2011, her Mother jumped off the Magnolia Bridge. No note. Gone.
Lara told us, “All my fears had come true. I looked in the mirror the moment I was told what had happened and I saw myself, I witnessed myself and I could see I was alive and would stay that way. I knew I would be okay and that right now I needed to care for my wounded self, care for my beautiful family and the healing would come. It was the worst moment of my life, but I also knew I would be okay. I was okay after my divorce, I was okay after my sister, I would be okay again, but a little voice wasn’t sure. I had lost a lot.” Doing things to try to take care of herself, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, attending a few spiritual retreats, she found the grief was still there. “I needed to grieve, but I also had so much to live for and it seemed to vex me. Yes, I had a right to grieve and I had lost so much. However, I was sure people had lost more who also had a lot less. I really did feel guilty for grieving sometimes.”
It was at the gym around the first anniversary of her sister’s death that Lara walked into an open class room and started to free dance. It felt healing. At Burning Man that summer she watched people hoop too. “It looked so freeing in the way that I remembered feeling that one day I danced my grief at the gym. It took me a few months, but I googled how to make a hoop, made a few and I was hooked. I didn’t initially think of myself as hooping to help with the grief, I just enjoyed how hooping felt.” She soon realized, however, that hooping was really helping her in ways she hadn’t expected. “With hooping I was having much less of that ugly sinking feeling associated with my grief. Instead, it was as if I could sink into my heart and feel closer to my Mom and sister there – I could miss them and be with them at the same time. Was that grief I was feeling? I don’t know, but it sure was healing.” So when her sister’s 2 year anniversary came, she did a little hoop dance to a song her sister had written. “I realized how much the hoop was helping me to grieve and stay present to life. It was a playful, heart-centering, creative means to joy much in the way my children are to me. I don’t know what it is exactly about spinning in circles, but perhaps much like a mandala, each artistic circle dance I was making was only going to be made once and then that was it. I find it very hard to stay in my head and spin – I naturally feel like I sink down into my heart space when I hoop and that is where I think we are all supposed to be all of the time in life anyway.”
Soundtrack: “”Angels on Earth” by Lara’s sister Arwen Morgan, available on iTunes.
Amanda Graham Noble of Havasu Hoop Love in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, knows what it’s like when grief piles up on you as well. Her mother and grandmother played a major role in her joy of living. She explained, “When I went to Australia as an exchange student, they both just couldn’t wait so they showed up in Australia for Christmas. They giggled and made funny jokes the whole time they were there. When I wanted to buy my 1970 VW Campervan I asked my grandma for a loan. Her reply? ‘I will give you the money if you name it after me.’ And so it is that the license plate reads EMINNIE after Ethel Minnie.” Her family surrounded her in joy, and then the joy left. “In 2007 I lost my Mom to Breast Cancer. She was 53 years old and I was by her side as she took her very last breath. Our relationship was the type of mother-daughter relationship that most would envy. We were close, almost like sisters. She was my world, and I hers. Shortly after my mom died, I also had a miscarriage. Soon after the miscarriage, my grandmother moved into our house because she needed care, and when my grandma took her last breath, just three days before Christmas, that was grief’s turning point. I was not just numb and in survival mode anymore, I felt no joy in my heart at all.”
Broken and filled with grief, Amanda ran into a hooper named Mary Decker of MeriHoops in January of 2009. “I have vivid memories of her swirling her hoop for hours, just rocking gently with the sun shining upon her face and the light radiating from within her to all those around her as she shared her hoops with everyone. I saw the joy gleaming out of her, and I wanted that joy.” Asking her a “million questions”, Mary gave her answers, sharing how she could make hoops and more. “I bought my very first Hoop and her name was Ladybug (mom’s favorite bug). From that weekend on I immersed myself in hooping and channeled my grief in the most healthy, hooptastic way you could possibly imagine. I approached a local non-profit, the Havasu Community Health Foundation, about starting a nonprofit called Havasu HOOP Love. It took a lot of guts to go in there and ask to be apart of their organization and it didn’t happen overnight, but I eventually won their hearts. In the days before my mothers passing she had told me some intimate things about the ways she would have lived her life differently. As a tribute to her, I want to do something fun to improve the overall health in the Lake community, where she lived a life of service.”
Noelle and Amanda both found solace in their hooping and transformed grief into service. What advice does Lara have for those who might try hooping through their grief? She said, “I know that hooping could serve so many people who are dealing with anxiety, depression, grief, loss, suicidal thoughts or general life struggles. Why hooping instead of something else? There are many things out there, but dancing and music are so unique to human kind and our history. To add a hoop, it is like having a dance partner at all times – one that isn’t critical of you. I feel like the hoop sometimes is my better self – by dancing with it, it shows me to myself and other’s in my true light. Tapping into my more natural state – a childlike nature comes out in hooping too, and it is also a part of healing from grief – to live like a child, each day in wonder. My grief doesn’t go away, but I am not scared of it anymore. It is perhaps that grief is my dance partner, grief is the hoop. Sometimes knocking me down or getting in the way, but mostly something I share space with and find a way, together, to spin it in such a way that it is beautiful.”
Philo Hagen is the Co-founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org. He’s been spinning things up online and off since April 2003. Co-Founder of the Bay Area Hoopers and LA Hoopers hoop groups, Philo has performed internationally and has won Hoopie Awards for Male Hooper of the Year and Video of the Year. He lives in Los Angeles, California, USA.
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